By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Despite losing four key members of last season's team that won a fourth straight Central Coast Section championship, the Sacred Heart Prep girls' water polo team is in line for a possible fifth consecutive crown this season.
It's still very early in the season, but the young and improving Gators already are making considerable headway to that historic goal of five straight. SHP and St. Francis currently are tied for the most consecutive section crowns while Menlo School has the most won, with six.
Sacred Heart Prep and St. Francis appear once again to be the elite teams in the CCS, with the Gators holding a 2-1 advantage over the Lancers this season following the 17th annual Amanda MacDonald Invitational that concluded Saturday at Menlo School.
Pippa Temple took an entry pass from fellow senior Erin Sheridan and scored on a cross-cage backhand out of the two-meter position to provide the winning goal in Sacred Heart's 6-5 victory over St. Francis.
Temple scored 20 goals during the two-day tourney while sophomore goalie Kelly Moran had 23 saves just on Saturday while helping the Gators go 4-0 in the event while improving to 8-2 on the season.
"We are pleased with the victory over SF in the championship game," said SHP coach Jon Burke, who has guided his team to a 106-20 record over the past four seasons, and including this year. "But, we realize it is still early in the season. SF is an experienced team that is well-coached, and you can never underestimate them.
"Any time you play SF, you are going to get their best. They played great defense against us and made some adjustments that made it challenging for us to score. They did a nice job covering our main offensive threats (Temple and Sheridan), so the goals by Morgan McCracken (two) and Maddie Casciaro were huge for us.
"We have played them three times in the past two weeks (SF Invitational third-place match, WCAL league match, Amanda MacDonald championship match) and that has not been easy for us. Winning the past two matches is an accomplishment for our team, but we know that there is a good chance we will see them again this season."
The two rivals could meet again at the Davis Fall Classic on Oct. 22, the NorCal Championship Tournament at Sacred Heart Prep on Oct. 28-29, the WCAL Tournament finale on Nov. 5.
In their potential matchups the rest of the season, defense will be crucial in the outcome.
"We played good defense throughout the tournament," Burke said. "That has always been the foundation of our team, so executing it successfully against some of the best teams in CCS was outstanding."
Moran continued to improve in the cage after moving up from the JV squad. She's trying to fill the hole left by second-team All-American and CCS Most Valuable Player Catherine Donahoe.
Sacred Heart Prep's veterans have helped make Moran's job that much easier. Burke singled out defenders like seniors Clare Rudolph and Mackenzie O'Holleran for doing a nice job with their matchups, while Temple and Sheridan provided much of the offensive production during the weekend.
"Our seniors have been great leaders and they are keeping the team composed during high-pressure situations," explained Burke. "We continue to gain more experience as the season progresses and are really stressing the importance of taking it one game at a time.
"We prepare for each opponent we face and the athletes never take anything for granted. We want to continue to improve over the course of the regular season and are hoping to play our best water polo in November."
Also at the MacDonald, Leland defeated Los Altos for third, 8-6; Menlo-Atherton (3-6) finished off a 2-2 performance with a 12-6 loss to St. Ignatius for fifth place; Palo Alto (6-5) took seventh with an 11-9 win over Burlingame; Buchanan topped Soquel for ninth, 9-4; and Menlo School (1-7) finished 12th following a 3-2 loss to Presentation.
Boys' water polo
Sacred Heart Prep finished fifth, Menlo School sixth and Menlo-Atherton seventh in the annual NCS/CCS Challenge that wrapped up Saturday in the East Bay.
The Gators (6-4) went 3-1 in the two-day event, losing only to De La Salle (7-5) in the second round. SHP beat Drake, 10-6, to open. On Saturday, the Gators topped Menlo-Atherton, 11-6, as junior Michael Holloway scored four goals and sophomore Harrison Enright added three. Junior goalie Will Runkel had 18 saves.
In the battle for fifth place, SHP registered a 9-6 victory over neighbor Menlo School in a rematch of last season's CCS Division II championship match (won by Menlo). Runkel had 17 saves with Holloway, Zach Churukian and Kyle Koenig all scoring twice. Nick Hale had two goals for Menlo (7-2) after scoring six in a 13-4 third-round win over Las Lomas.
Menlo-Atherton (7-5) went 2-2 in the tourney, topped by an 11-6 win over Las Lomas in the seventh-place match.
At the Sequoia Invitational on Saturday, Priory (2-7) went 0-3 -- falling to Hillsdale (11-8), Carlmont (16-6) and Sequoia (8-4). Eric Turnquist led the Panthers with nine goals while Kyle Walden added eight.